By: Matt Vines, Assistant Sports Information Director
HAMMOND – After the Northwestern State football team finally ended its 471-day stretch without playing a squad in another jersey Saturday in a 31-24 loss to No. 7 Nicholls, the Demons will have a chance to measure themselves against another ranked opponent.
NSU (0-1, 0-1 Southland Conference) will take its first road trip of the season Saturday when they head to No. 18 Southeastern (1-1, 1-1 SLC).
The 6 p.m. kickoff will be broadcast on ESPN+ as well as The Demon Sports Network on 94.9 FM.
NSU coach Brad Laird and his staff were able to evaluate themselves against another opponent after the long hiatus in competition, and he said the Demons should only improve throughout the six-game spring season.
“It was good to have somebody on the other sideline, and the guys have been looking forward to that opportunity to compete,” Laird said. “Looking at the film reinforced what I saw live in that we fought for 60 minutes and played with passion.
“The score wasn’t what we wanted, but our message to the team is to keep fighting. It’s great to make corrections off game tape as opposed to scrimmages and practices, and it’s great to have a game day under our belt and continue to get better.”
NSU’s explosive rushing attack showcased itself Saturday as running backs Aubrey Scott and Scooter Adams rushed for 119 and 90 yards, respectively, in their debuts.
NSU records have individual box scores dating back to 1977, and no other running back crossed the century mark in his debut during that span.
The ground game produced four rushes of at least 17 yards, and Laird heaped praise on an offensive line that was featuring three new starters in Khalil Corbett-Canada, Jakob Sell and Logan Canerdy.
“We’ve seen Scooter and Aubrey do that in practice, and I’m proud of how these guys have worked to get where they are,” said Laird, who added that players like Scott redshirted this past season and have waited even longer to see live competition. “That offensive line goes unnoticed sometimes, and they had a great game in which they displayed effort, toughness and physicality.
“I’m so excited about them because you watch a guy like Khalil who has been in the program and worked and waited for his turn. To see what they were able to do against another opponent, it makes you dadgum proud.”
Kenny Sheldon and Jake Gore are the veterans up front, and Sheldon said the offensive line took great pride in NSU rushing for 237 yards and averaging nearly 10 yards per carry.
“It’s a product of our work, and those running backs back there are working for us and we’re working for them,” Sheldon said. “Having film to evaluate ourselves is big time with live bullets flying around, and that’ll be helpful going forward.
“The pieces are fitting together well up front with five pretty athletic linemen. We got some first-game jitters out, so we’re looking forward to that transition from the first to the second game.”
The Lions have allowed 205 rushing yards per game in their first two contests, including 244 on the ground and 672 total in a 43-38 loss to Sam Houston in the opener.
But head coach Frank Scelfo has built the Lions into a perennial Top 25 team, including winning a home playoff game this past season.
SLU quarterback Cole Kelley has thrown for 763 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions through two games.
NSU’s defense stood tall at times against Nicholls, including forcing two turnovers on the goal line to keep the Demons in the game.
The Demons will be without cornerback Shemar Bartholomew, who intercepted a pass on the goal line for one of those two turnovers.
“We made Nicholls earn it besides the drive at the beginning of the fourth quarter,” Laird said. “That was key as the game went on because we made plays in the red zone to get those takeaways.
“In all three phases we need to improve on executing consistently, but I was proud of the effort we played with.”
Linebacker Ja’Quay Pough led the defense with 16 tackles, and he said the entire team played with the necessary energy and emotion to be successful.
“Everybody was hyped,” Pough said. “We fell short, but if that’s how we’re going to come out every game – I’ll love this team.
“We emphasize turnovers every day before individuals in practice because we do our circuits where we work on stripping, getting interceptions, high pointing the ball and fielding round balls on a fumble. I feel like more guys are buying in, more guys texting me and asking questions and more people caring about this team and bringing back a culture of winning.”
Every Demon yearns for their first win of the season, but a victory might mean a little more to quarterbacks coach Anthony Scelfo, son of SLU’s head coach Frank.
The son joined NSU’s staff in January of 2018, just a few weeks before father Scelfo accepted the Southeastern head job after the pair coached together at UTSA.
Anthony also played at Tulane where his father was on staff.
NSU defensive coordinator Mike Lucas also has ties to Hammond as he helped propel SLU forward as its head coach from 2007-2011, just the second head coach of the program since it was reinstated in 2003.
Lucas won SLC Coach of the year honors after leading SLU to a winning record in 2009. He recruited many of the players who helped SLU win the league title in 2013.
Photo: Chris Reich, NSU Photographics Services